In early June, my husband (and fellow Rolf Prima sponsored pro triathlete) Guy and I ventured to Gunsan Korea for Challenge Korea ( Full Distance / Ironman )
Having raced professionally our entire adult lives, we’re always eager to find new adventures and experience new races. Tt was our first time to this location and race venue and we were excited for the opportunity.
As I’ve gotten older we’ve made some changes in how we travel for races. First, we try and avoid overnight travel to a race. This can’t always be done but when possible it makes for a more enjoyable and successful race day. Second, we used to fly into a race location, race, then leave the next day back to our home base ( Boise or Perth) to recover and re-set we now we plan a few extra days after the race to see the sites and experience the local culture.
Our trip from Perth to Korea began on the Monday afternoon of race week.
Avoiding an overnight flight we flew 5 hours to Sydney, stayed overnight, then the 11 hour flight to Seoul Korea the next day.
The race location was another few hours drive from Seoul so we stayed the night at the airport hotel so we could get a good night's sleep and get in some final training and race prep the next morning.
By taking our time, we led into a calm race week. We had the opportunity to relax, train, do a little bit of work checking in with our GK Endurance coached athletes, get ourselves organized for race day and most importantly, get good sleep.
I never sleep well before a race. You might think that after competing 18 years as a Professional that would have changed, but it hasn’t. Sometimes I actually think that it may have gotten even worse.
As normal, I was up way before the alarm and ready to head to the transition area with plenty of time to spare.
We knew the swim start time was approximate based on what the tide was doing and it was crazy how much it would change over the course of the day.
The swim was 2 loops of a rectangle shape with an “ Aussie Exit” between the laps.
We were also fortunate that there was a lane rope the entire way around to follow. Something else we have come to love about racing in Asia.
Finally the gun went off and we were on our way.
There was quite a bit of running and wading before the water was deep enough to swim This is NOT my forte but once I could get the swim arms moving I was able to stay at the front of the swim for the first lap. By the start of the second lap the tide had changed which increased the amount of running and wading through the shallows. The water was choppier but with the help of the lane rope so there was no excuse for not swimming in a straight line – except when
we lapped age groupers and had to swim around them.
The Swim to Bike transition was far longer than normal. Magda had taken the lead of the race and was off on the bike while sitting in second, working through the 800 meter transition and trying not to let my heart rate jack up too high. In and out and onto the bike she had put 30sec
The Bike course was definitely unique and one of the attractions of the race. It was held on the World's Longest Sea Wall.
It was 2 loops of what I would consider 3/4 flat and 1/4 rolling which were the climbs up and over the multiple bridges.
The roads were amazing and besides the first 10-15km the rest of the course was on completely closed roads with 3 to 4 open lanes on both sides.
For the first 90km I hardly saw anyone. There were large walls and pillars separating the out and back lanes so unless someone passed you or was slightly in front it was just you and your thoughts.
The second lap there were a few more athletes around as there was a Half Ironman on at the same time but with 3 or 4 lanes to use there was never a problem passing. I just kept my pace and motored.
Coming back into transition for the run the women’s field was pretty spread out and I was still sitting in 2nd place.
My training leading into the race had not been ideal and I had to respect that and play things slightly conservatively. I got my banana in, took a deep breath and reminded myself to focus on 1km at time and nothing else.
The run course was 4 laps out and back on a multi lane road and fully exposed to sun and wind. I saw Guy just as he was finishing his first lap. We gave each other a little smile and nod…. No words were needed.
One way out was into a strong head wind, and although it slowed our pace, the cooling effect was welcomed. Running in the other direction the pace was better but we took more ice and water at the aid stations to keep our body temperatures down.
Magda was having an incredible day looking strong at the front of the race. Her gap was growing and I knew I couldn’t pull her back but I was holding my gap on 3rd place.
I repeated to myself, “Just keep doing what you are doing!”
By lap 4 that was getting harder. The wheels were starting to fall off. I stopped looking at my watch or worrying about pace and focused on small goals and the present moment - putting one foot in front of the other and getting to the next aid station. When I only had within 1km to go, I finally knew I could relax a bit allowed myself a little smile!
I was going to finish 2nd!
I’m 45 years old now and have raced professionally for 18 years. As much as I love this, I know I can’t do it forever. As I came into the finish area I wondered…
“Would this be my last Ironman?”
“Would this be my last podium?”
I slowed down and enjoyed the last few hundred meters. I relished in this sport and community I love, and a body that still allow me to not only complete Iron distance triathlons, but place at the top.
Guy was at the finish waiting. We sat, rested and shared stories from the day.
There was a bit of delay from finishing and the podium presentation. And as I waited I started to feel a little light headed from dehydration. When they finally called us to the podium I thought I would be fine, but just as they started to call our names out I turned to Magda and said “I think I am going to pass out!”
The next thing I knew I was laying on a stretcher!
Thankfully the podium ladies were kind enough to come over to me following the presentation so this all earned me a unique podium photo – a memorable photo for a memorable race.
The next day we heading back to Seoul for a few days of exploring before the journey back to Perth.
Racing in Asia is something unique and special. The culture and banquets are still alive and well, the fans are engaged and this course was great. If you have the chance, I would recommend the Asian racing experience. You just have to go into it with a little bit of an open mind.